When we think of classic Christmas songs, it tends to be the case that the older the song, the better.
In a sense, this is a natural reaction to the passage of time and our innate distrust of the present, but perhaps it also says something about how pop culture has captured Christmas. While much of what we now consider “Christmassy” we owe to Dickens, an awful lot of it is also dated to the ’50s and ’60s when “pop culture” properly began in earnest with the rapid spread of television and other visual media.
How refreshing, then, to have a Christmas classic from our own time. Perhaps this is a little too early for much of the Sputnik demographic, but it’s certainly within the timeline of our editors to remember a time when Mariah Carey was a) relevant, b) disgustingly beautiful and c) not world-renowned as a crazy person. In the early ’90s, Mariah still had her natural breasts and was quite comfortably the most successful pop singer around, and still she found time to write and sing one of the best Christmas songs ever produced.
Kanye West’s been neglecting his G.O.O.D. Fridays project as of late – no new updates since mid-November – but you didn’t really think he could let Christmas pass without another gift, did you?
The base track for ‘Christmas in Harlem’ “leaked” (in other words, Kanye sent it out) on Wednesday, featuring professional famous person Teyana Taylor, but Kanye confirmed that a version with more guests was impending. Barely 24 hours, he’d “leaked” it – the recording featuring Cam’ron, Vado, Jim Jones, CyHi Da Prynce, Pusha T, Musiq and, of course, Teyana.
Kanye West – ‘Christmas in Harlem’
I have a bone to pick with “Last Christmas” and no, it’s probably not the one George Michael is hoping for. I don’t really care that it’s overplayed and over-saturated. Five, now six times on today’s blog? Whatever. I don’t even mind George Michael’s breathy, exasperated delivery. I mean, it makes me a little uncomfortable, but I’ll get over it. Nope. My problem with “Last Christmas” is that it does not make sense.
Now I don’t know what George Michael went to school for, if he went at all, but I doubt he studied much math. The other guy in Wham? I don’t know who he is. I don’t care, either, because he’s also obviously not too strong with numbers. Let’s look at “Last Christmas” as if it were a math problem. A really simple one, too. Like, second grade simple.
So, George Michael has one heart.
George Michael gives his heart away to someone. Presumably the other guy in Wham.
Guy who now has George Michael’s heart gives it away the very next day, perhaps explaining why I haven’t heard anything from him since.
At this point, George Michael doesn’t have a heart. Insert joke here.
How, then, can he give it to someone special next year?
“Last Christmas” is an insult to mathematical logic and I will not stand for it.
PS: You can point out that medically it is impossible for one…
Not a lot of people know this, but there are an awful lot of deranged, fanatical people out there who have dedicated large parts of their lives to archiving all 150+ versions of Wham!’s festive classic ‘Last Christmas.’
Naturally, I’m one of them.
Until an unfortunate incident with a fried motherboard destroyed my collection, I had upwards of 50 versions of the song in my possession, from almost every genre imaginable. Granted, many of those imaginable genres are the sort of trashy pop nobody sane would ever want to imagine (although I will defend Whigfield’s version to the death), but there’s an awful lot of good stuff mixed in there.
Come to think of it, had I been more clever about this, I’d have scrapped the “12 Days of Christmas” idea and just gone with the “12 Days of Last Christmas.” Maybe next year. In the meantime, feel free to take in 5 of the best.
Yesterday, we began our countdown with a classic from over half a century ago. Today, we focus on something much more recent – so recent, in fact, it was only released today.
The Popical Island Collective came together largely of necessity – Irish labels are overwhelmingly biased towards either commercial music or punk – but the common thread that unites the likes of Squarehead, Yeh Deadlies and So Cow masks the huge amount of diversity within their ranks. The collective has been buzzing around the Irish music scene for less than a year, but already they’ve made quite an impression on the local scene with a double of upbeat indie pop compilations, the second of which can be found below.
A Hard Old Station: Christmas With the Popical Island Showband is a six-track EP featuring four original numbers from lo-fi pop acts Yeh Deadlies, The Walpurgis Family, Tieranniesaur (solo project of Yeh Deadlies’ Annie Tierney) and Jonny Fun and the… Hesitation, as well as two tracks from the 21-member Popical Island Showband, made up of members from the aforementioned acts.
Horses play an important role in western cultural mythology – think everything from the cowboys to Black Beauty – and it’s no less pronounced in music. Horses are hugely symbolic creatures: strong, graceful and difficult to tame. In other words, the very qualities that most (male) musicians would like to see in themselves.
I’ve decided to limit the countdown to actual horse-related songs, which unfortunately means no euphemisms. That means no ‘Horse it Into Ya, Cynthia‘ and no Band of Horses. It also excludes every song ever written about heroin, which rules out 90% of rock songs written between 1968 and 1995.
Before you post the final and non-retractable version of your ”2010 Songs of The Year” list, be sure to listen to What Happened?, a criminally unheard gem off Animal Collective’s score to the experimental film ODDSAC. It’s a track that mixes the reckless forward momentum of “Turn Into Something” with the electronic pallet of Strawberry Jam, Avey Tare combating a constant squeal and a relentlessly uptempo drum loop for three breathtaking minutes. Tare’s on his A game here, his yelp of the title lyric warm but also shrilly desperate, Animal Collective invoking its trademark brand of nostalgia and adding something sinister. “What happened to make me suffer inside?” goes the opening lyric. Who knows exactly, but looking at the wild party scene the song accompanies, my guess is growing old happened, and youth is now a hazy, hallucinatory memory of constant abandon. Not to be missed.
Though the phrase “Twelve Days of Christmas” traditionally refers to the period beginning on Christmas Day, we at Sputnikmusic are far more interested in the dozen days leading up to it, when the anticipation and excitement builds and builds until the inevitable disappointment kicks in on Christmas morning. Over the next twelve days, we hope to expose you to every facet of the Christmas music experience, from the impossibly earnest to the self-consciously ironic to the downright offensive and everything in between.
We begin, though, with a classic.
Montgomery Burns once lamented: “Smithers, years ago I blew the chance to buy Picasso’s Guernica for a song. Luckily, that song was ‘White Christmas,’ and by hanging onto it I made billions!” The story may have been fictional (although the Simpsons is otherwise 100% factually accurate) but the sentiment was right: Bing Crosby’s recording of Irving Berlin’s ‘White Christmas’ remains the best-selling single of all-time and will likely never be beat.
For those of us who live in less than arctic climates, the “White Christmas” remains an annual fantasy, an ideal that belies the fact any significant amount of snowfall scares the shit out of us, destroys our infrastructure and sends us into varying degrees of deranged panic. Every year. It’s testament to the beauty of the imagery, and the song, that ‘White Christmas’ remains the season’s most enduring staple and the feather in the cap of one of pop music’s greatest ever singers.
When I was fourteen, Muse became my favorite band. Considering what I’d been listening to before I heard them, they were actually a fairly sophisticated choice. I was finally starting to move beyond the realm of bands like Good Charlotte, Senses Fail, and New Found Glory (which I had moved on to from Christian music). I had been taking piano lessons for about five years, and I had grown to hate the instrument, mostly because I hated my teacher. So I was impressed with a band like Muse, who could write songs in which the piano sounded like something wholly different from the object of my distaste. They were playing the kind of music that I had always wanted to learn in my lessons but never did. It wasn’t necessarily difficult to play (barring the solo in “Butterflies And Hurricanes,” which floored me when my fourteen year old ears heard it), but it was certainly memorable, and as someone who wanted to forget all about the piano, that impressed me to no end.
Looking back, I find myself much more ashamed of loving them as much as I did than I am of loving a band like Good Charlotte, because Muse are now the worst band ever.
When Muse first started getting a lot of attention, there were a lot of Radiohead comparisons, which sent die-hard Radiohead fans into a tizzy because of Muse’s supposed unworthiness of the honor. That’s true, of course – Radiohead are a far superior band…
Billy Bragg, M. Ward and Owen Pallett, amongst a host of others, have come together to record a Joanna Newsom cover record released digitally recently in support of the Oxfam America Pakistan Flood Relief fund. They’ve uploaded the album to Soundcloud, embedded below, and if you’re feeling particularly charitable you can head to their website, where a donation of $10 or more will earn you a high quality mp3 download of the 22-track album, cover art and liner notes. It’s for a good cause.
“Pakistan’s worst floods in decades are now affecting more than 20 million people. More than a fifth of the country’s cropland has been inundated, and 1.8 million houses damaged or destroyed. In the crowded temporary camps, waterborne disease is already taking a toll. In order to prevent more suffering and fatalities, Oxfam is rushing clean water, sanitation materials, and other essential aid to hundreds of thousands of those in need.”
As the international media descended on Ireland in November to cover its impending financial crisis, their choice of imagery was striking. Almost all pictorial coverage, in the UK and American media at least, focused on one of three images: beggars, ghost estates or horses.
The first two are predictable enough – similar pictures exist in almost every major city across Europe and the United States – but the third is a puzzler. It appears that for all the rapid financial and technological advances we’ve achieved over the past twenty years, Ireland remains the only country in the world where a horse can freely roam the streets of a major city, with or without its owner, and nobody will bat an eyelid. Except for foreigners, of course, but they hardly count.
Limerick comedy rap duo Rubberbandits have made a small industry of this “only in Ireland” schtick, achieving unlikely success with Ireland’s usually hyper-conservative state broadcaster RTE. They first came to (indie) prominence with the hilarious ‘Up Da Ra,’ a sly satire of those radical Irish nationalists (many of them in the US) whose grasp of historical fact is only rivaled by their loose grip on intelligence. ‘Willie O’Dea‘ is no less funny for the fact only a few thousand people could ever understand it.
As comedians, Rubberbandits are as much miss as they are hit – like a crude, very esoteric, Irish version of the Lonely Island – but as musicians they definitely…
Identity is simultaneously everything and nothing in pop music: artists are constantly criticized for borrowing ideas and being carbon copies of someone else, but they also seem to try very hard to show that they are individuals. Most of the time though, their attempts are ill-conceived and often prove their detractors right. Christina Aguilera’s “Not Myself Tonight” springs to mind. After Back To Basics scrubbed Aguilera’s image squeaky clean, the logical step for a typical pop star would be to try to “do something different,” which in this case turned out to be an exact mirror image of the start of Aguilera’s career. Years ago she went from the innocent yet innuendo filled “Genie In A Bottle” (the girl next door laying fully clothed on a beach) to “Dirrty” (hookers engaging in sweaty wrestling matches; probably the first thing a lot of young boys masturbated to). Back To Basics saw her emulating the singers of the 40s and 50s, which means she wore white dresses and curled her hair and put on a lot of bright red lipstick, and four years later, the video for “Not Myself Tonight” featured Aguilera wearing a bunch of different S&M outfits. So really, “Not Myself Tonight” should have been titled “Myself Eight Years Ago.”
It’s hard to defend pop music when such faux pas are so commonplace. Even though Christina Aguilera is generally one of the better pop stars, you have to fault her for things like that when even fucking Ke$ha is doing…
I don’t particularly enjoy Christmas in any physical sense; I don’t buy presents for anyone and I don’t expect to receive any. We don’t decorate our house or get a Christmas tree anymore. Christmas is more of an obligation than anything at this point, and while that does depress me a little, it’s not a big deal. However, I’ll be damned if the Christmas season doesn’t weasel its way inside me every year. I wouldn’t call it holiday cheer – I’m a cynic at heart and Christmas is no different – but there is a certain pervading joyfulness underneath everything I do, humming away electrically to the tune of whatever Christmas song is stuck in my head or playing over some loudspeaker in a store.
My favorite Christmas songs utilize minor chords, and none do it better than “O Holy Night,” which has always stood head and shoulders above other Christmas songs for me. When I think of Christmas and winter, the first image that pops unbidden into my head is not one of snow or multicolored lights or wrapping paper. It is a very black night in which you can see every star in the sky, and there is profound silence all around. It captures both the beauty and stillness of winter but also those ominous qualities – the cold, the loneliness. The chord progression of “O Holy Night” embodies these things for me. Nothing explodes into glorious abandon quite like the chorus, but it’s so uncertain, teetering…
Happy holidays to all of the Sputnik Music faithful. The last four weeks of the year are a notoriously slow time for new releases, and it just doesn’t make sense to release multiple news articles during such a slow time period. The following is a list of major releases through the end of 2010. Please feel free to request reviews for any of the following albums from staff or contributors. This article will be updated as necessary.
Week of December 14 Crystal Bowersox – Farmer’s Daughter (Jive)
Ciara – Basic Instinct (La Face)
The Damned Things – Ironiclast (Mercury)
Diddy and Dirty Money – The Last Train To Paris (Bad Boy Records)
Michael Jackson – Michael (Epic)
R. Kelly – Love Letter (Jive)
At a recent concert in Auckland, New Zealand, the U2 frontman paid tribute to 29 miners lost in the Pike River blast by dedicating two classic songs to the deceased: ‘One Tree Hill’ (itself inspired by an Auckland landmark) and, curiously and insensitively, ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.’ By all accounts, the bulk of participants took the tribute in the spirit it was intended, but many were offended by the rather crass choice of title.
Such daydreamy behaviour is not in the least unusual for our boy Paul, of course: the 50-year-old has a tendency not to see the woods for the trees in his eagerness, to put it charitably. Of more recent curiosity in Ireland has been the man’s total silence on his country’s economic woes, which have necessitated a bailout from the hated British, the dastardly Germans and the… well, we like the Swedes.
In normal circumstances, a tragedy on the scale of Ireland’s economic collapse would be Bono’s cue to hit the soapbox, but his bond with the old country has become evermore strained in recent years. His cosy relationship with Messrs Blair and Bush notwithstanding (though Ireland is more sympathetic to American interests than any other European country, barring perhaps the UK, we all have our limits), Bono and U2’s tax avoidance strategies have come in for increasing criticism at home.
Until recently, Ireland had a generous tax regime that exempted musicians (and…